by Donna Brandes

[ Donna's latest book is reviewed in this issue1.  Her picture appears at the foot of this page2]


'Rules of the Game'

Let's take one specific game from the Gamesters' Handbook and follow it through.

Materials - None.

Aims - Group interaction, imagination, intellectual exercise, fun, getting to know each other.

Procedure - Form a circle: one person goes out and the others choose a rule.  When the person returns, he or she must find out the rule by asking people questions about themselves.  A good rule to start with is to answer every question as if you were the person on your right.  Players must answer questions honestly, subject to the rules.  For example, another possibility could be for all girls to tell lies and all boys to tell the truth.

    Rules can be very hard or very simple, according to age and experience.  Rules can be visual (scratch head before answering), or structural (each answer to begin with the next letter of the alphabet).

    Anyone who doesn't feel like joining in is free to say nothing or "I pass".  The only way to get everyone to participate is to allow everyone not to participate.  This applies to all the games: everyone is invited to join in; no one is excluded; and no one is chastised for staying out.  I have always found that if children are free not to participate, then eventually they will want to do so.

    In 'Rule of the Game', as in 'Crossed and Uncrossed' and 'The Adverb Game' and others of this genre, everyone knows something except the one who has gone out of the room.  If the leader is effective, then the game will develop such that everyone is supporting the person that is 'it', not keeping him or her guessing as long as possible. One of the primary aims of the game is group co-operation - while one person has been temporarily excluded from the group, that person will soon be 'in' and someone else will be 'out'.


'Fear in a Hat'

Let's look at another of the more popular games, Fear in a Hat, and take it through various levels of use.

Materials - Pencil, paper, receptacle (hat, tin, etc.).

Aims - Share and accept.

Procedure - Played in a circle.  Everyone (including the leader) to complete this sentence (anonymously): "In this class (or group, or whatever) I am afraid that . . . "  The scraps of paper are then placed in the receptacle in the centre; this is then passed around, stopping at each person who then draws one out and reads it, enlarging on the sentence and trying to express what the person was feeling.

    For example: the leader reads the first one and might say: "In this class I am afraid that I will be laughed at . . . (continues) I am afraid to say my feelings because everyone laughs at me, so I never say anything".  This procedure continues around the circle.  Leader must make sure that everyone simply listens and does not comment.  No arguing or comment is allowed.  Then the group discusses what was noticed or discovered.

Variations - Worries in a Hat; Gripes in a Hat; Wishes in a Hat; Likes and Dislikes (two hats). 

    Although the sentences could be about any subject, such as wishes, hopes, etc., for the sake of describing how the game can be expanded, let us take the case where it actually is fear.

    After the first round of the game as described above, a discussion could be started in the group.  Alternatively any of the follow-up activities could be tried:-

  1. In pairs, talk about times in your life when you have been afraid of that particular thing, and when you have felt the other person's fear. 

  2. In pairs, talk about "What's the worst thing that could happen?"  For example, if the fear was of the dark, talk about what might happen in the dark, what might be lurking there, what if you were blind . . .

  3. In pairs, or in the group, discuss whether or not you shared the same fears as others.  How do you avoid/face/cope with those fears?

  4. Close your eyes and have a fantasy about a very extreme situation in which you are faced with your particular fear.  Then discuss:

        Can you really feel that fear now?

        Can you induce it in your fantasy?

        How do you know when you are afraid:

            What bodily changes do you experience?

            Which comes first, the awareness in your mind or the bodily changes?

  5.    Draw

        A.  Fantasy scene of your fear.

        B.  Monsters in the shape of your own fears.

        C.  Masks of your fears, and wear them, and be them. 

  1. Either in discussion or on paper or through drama, relate Fear to your senses.  How does your Fear (a) feel; (b) taste; (c) smell; (look); (sound)?

  2. Using any of the above media, explore the difference between Fear and any other strong emotion, negative or positive.  What are the different bodily reactions?  How do other people relate to you at those times?

  3. Fantasise about your own Fear.  Move around the room making your face and body reflect extreme fear in that situation.  Add noises.

  4. Brainstorm together:

        A.  Things I'm Afraid of.

        B.  People I'm Afraid of.

        C.  Situations I'm Afraid of.

        Write, draw, dramatise, make music about these.

  1. Do a Value Continuum about Fear, using such extremes as "I am never Afraid . . . I am frequently Afraid", or "It's all right to be Afraid sometimes . . . It's never all right to be Afraid."

  2. Psychodrama: the group takes someone's fear to act out as a scene, adds details, sound action.  The 'client' can choose to direct it or star in it.  It can be repeated several times with different endings, so that the client has an opportunity to discover what works and what doesn't.

  3. (In my opinion the most fruitful of all)  The group invents games and ideas and plays to explore the subject of Fear.

  4. There is the possibility, with a trained leader, of using this game as a basis for 'working' on a specific aspect of a client's fears, using Gestalt, Transactional Analysis, counselling, or in-depth psychodrama.

I want to re-emphasise that although I have had fun with these games socially and professionally, that is not my sole purpose in playing them, nor is it all that they achieve.  I take them very seriously as a powerful and valuable group work tool.

Here are a few examples of the rewards I get from using the games purposefully as a teacher or group leader:

  1. I have proved to myself over and over that if I spend a few hours, or even days, using these activities with each group of pupils/students at the beginning of a new term, I will have less discipline problems, better communication and rapport, a more open and supportive group, and more cooperation for whatever tasks we have to accomplish together.

  2. These activities encourage me to listen to the students and be receptive to their ideas, and to get to know them better.

  3. The games promote creativity and lateral thinking, and can be adapted for any subject.  (The first games I used in school were maths games; try applying The Rule of the Game to maths, science, politics, etc.)

  4. 'Rounds' create an opportunity for each member of a group to be heard without comment or evaluation.  For some quiet students this may be the only such opportunity.

  5. The rounds foster a spirit of equality rather than hierarchy or competition.

  6. Rounds proved a valuable source of feedback for me as a teacher, and for the methods of learning,

  7. These activities have proved extremely valuable in the exploration and enhancement of self-image.**

Obviously these are the kinds of things that teachers accomplish using many different methods, notable Drama.  I know that the games are not a panacea, and not the only means to these ends.  But they have been so effective and valuable for me as a teacher that I am willing to do whatever I can to encourage their use.


We Can't Do This

For those of you who have not tried Games and other discovery methods in your teaching, here are 13 ready-made reasons why 'It won't work in my school or group'.

  1. The Head won't let me.

  2. The other teachers will think I'm just playing around.

  3. It would make too much noise.

  4. I don't have a place to do it in.

  5. There's no time because of exams.

  6. Isn't there a danger of . . . (whatever you care to name)?

  7. People won't talk honestly in the classroom.

  8. They'll make a joke of it.

  9. What if they get upset?

  10. It doesn't go with my subject.

  11. The Deputy Head won't let me.

  12. The parents wouldn't like it.

  13. I don't know how.

  14. ?

  15. ?

  16. ?

  17. ?

  18. ?

  19. ?

  20. ?

(add seven more of your own)


I'd like to ask you to take a look at the possibility that these are all just considerations that you using to stop yourself trying new things.


Try making a list of 13 reasons why your school or group could benefit from exploring these ideas, or 13 way around your considerations.  And try something . . . anything . . . new in your work tomorrow.


**[Donna drew on her Master's thesis on Using Drama to Enhance Self Concept for this section and added the following footnote to her original article: "In writing this thesis, I taught using the described methods three times a week for twelve weeks in a 'disadvantaged' school in Walker, Newcastle.  Responses on a purpose-designed questionnaire, administered before and after the teaching, showed no improvement in the control group that was not taught this way, and a 30 per cent positive gain in improved self-concept in the group which was so taught for 36 lessons.]


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*[This is the concluding half of the article started in our last issue. It was first published in the Bulletin of the Group Relations Training Association (GRTA) in June 1982.  Eleven years later, with Donna Brandes' kind permission, I published an abridged version in the Winter 1993 issue of Groupvine that I was then editing for GRTA.  I have recently, with much pleasure, made contact again with Donna in Perth, Western Australia and look forward to her future collaboration with Nurturing Potential.  (Joe Sinclair - Editor)]




1.  Life in the Fat Lane, 2002


The picture is of Donna Brandes and Joe Sinclair at a GRTA conference in 1990


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Gamesters Handbook: 140 Games for Teachers and Group Leaders
by Donna Brandes, Howard Phillips
Trans-Atlantic Pubns Inc; ISBN: 0748703411; Teacher edition (December 1995)